Are You My Ally?

[This is reprint of a post I made at Teh Portly Dyke in August '07 -- I'm re-posting it here because these issues have been up for me again ever since the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.]

In the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that, during my blog-reading adventures, I've felt a little tiny twinge everytime I read something like: "This is particularly hard, coming from one of our own", or "it's especially difficult to take this from someone on my own team".

I actually like the word "ally". I've used it as a relational category for people that I wouldn't probably want to get all buddy-buddy with, but with whom I do acknowledge a certain idealogical or principalic connection.

Recently, though, I've been noticing that recurring twinge, and as I've examined it, I've wondered if it may have to do with the combative/competitive/separative connotations of the word "ally" that are evoked in me by these statements ("one of our own"/"on my team" -- which implies that there is someone who is not "one of us", or that we are on a team, playing a game, which means that someone wins, and someone loses).

I notice that I don't have this twinge when I think of the less war-like definitions of "ally": an associate who provides cooperation or assistance.

In my life, I've found "allies" in odd places -- sometimes where I least expect it.

There was the long rambling discussion that I had on a train with a Mormon mother of 8 who told me that, although she was often conflicted about the subject of homosexuality from a spiritual basis, she strongly opposed any government action that oppressed gays or kept equal rights from them, because, as she said: "They could decide to do the same thing to Mormons".

There was the dinner-table conversation with my entire FOO (family of origin) where my fundamentalist brother-in-law and I found ourselves on the same side of an argument about home-schooling.

There have been people that I hated to say I agreed with when they made a cogent point, but I believe that intellectual and personal integrity requires that I acknowledge this when it happens.

I've known burly he-men who were more actively "feminist" than I was, and straight people who were way less willing than I to let a homophobic comment slide.

Conversely, I've experienced situations where I discovered that people who I thought should be my "natural allies" were not. I've heard grossly anti-feminist sentiment from radical lesbians, been on the receiving end of inflammatory and violent actions from self-identified peace activists, and been given lectures rife with capitalist dogma by avowed socialists.

So, who is my "ally"?

In my 30s and into my mid-40s, I interacted almost exclusively with lesbians (outside of my work). This was my culture, my community, and my environment.

For the last 10 years, my life has been very different, and my culture, community, and environment are far more diverse. The individuals that I consider as being within my closest and most intimate circle now span a wide range of orientations, ages, classes, spiritual approaches, nationalities, and races.

I consider these people my "friends", but not all of them are my "allies" in certain areas. One of my close friends spouts fat-phobic remarks (about herself usually, but never about me) on a regular basis. One of my close friends believes that the work I do for a living is blasphemy when regarded from his spiritual perspective. I love these people, and spend time with them whenever I can. So, I assume that in my mind, "ally-ship" is not a requirement for "friendship". Which confuses me sometimes.

I wonder if this separation between my concepts of "ally" and "friend" represents some idealogical schism in me. Do I hold my "political/activist" self as a separate being from my personal/social self? Is that necessary? Is it healthy? Does it support integrity in me?

I began this post with a question, and thought I might actually be able to answer it -- but now I seem to have simply manifested a bouquet of additional questions. (I hate it when that happens.)

I'd simply return to the definition of ally that I like: "an associate who provides cooperation or assistance" -- but this, too, seems like a garden of questions -- What is "cooperation"? "Assistance" with what?

I'm now realizing that I ask myself these questions every time I interact with someone who I think might be a potential ally. Someone posts about a subject that I feel passionate about, and I search their writing for evidence that they are "on my side" , or that I agree with them, or that their voice might be adequate to speak what I might have said. If there are little nuances to their words that create an eddy of disturbance in me, I notice that I calculate whether it's worth it to point this out, or whether it's more important to just support my ally for the bulk and intent of their piece (I'm not saying this is a good thing, just that I notice that I do it).

I think, though, that the "twinges" I've been feeling about this whole ally thing really have to do with this: I am aware, lately, of feeling less and less like someone who is engaged in a rational discussion in my nation, and more and more like someone who is in an embattled position. I notice that I don't even bother to comment at right-wing sites at this point. I bear the assumption that my very handle (PortlyDyke) will result in automatic dismissal, if not downright harassment.

I'm disturbed by the growing separation that I perceive in the USA, the "Us" and "Them" constructs that I find creeping into my own language. I'm disturbed by the fact that I watched the Republican debates only to see how outrageous the candidates might be, rather than in any remote belief that one of them might say something substantive, and the fact that I watched the Logo debates to see if any of the Dems were about to grow a spinal column on gay rights -- one of "my" issues.

I'm disturbed by how many times I've read (or typed) the words *running for cover* in comments and forums that I think of as being populated mostly with "allies".

So, I think it's time I got clear on what (or who) constitutes an "ally" for me.

Here's what I've got so far:
  1. I tend to feel "allied" with people who can imagine the circumstance or situation of others, and make some attempt to take that into account as they communicate.
  2. I tend to feel "allied" with people who passionately embrace and communicate about their own personal experience while acknowledging that the experience of others might be equally valid. (Shorter PortlyDyke for 1 & 2: I value the ability to engage in compassionate accountability.)
  3. I tend to feel "allied" with people who take responsibility for their words and actions.
Some lessons I have learned about "Allies" in my short time on Earth (51 years is NOT a long time, I have discovered -- I feel like I'm just getting started).
  1. Just because someone decides to "let you be" for the moment doesn't necessarily mean they are an ally. Many gay bars existed prior to Stonewall -- the politicians, policemen, and others who ignored them (until they didn't ignore them) were not gay rights allies. When you become inconvenient to them, a person/organization/structure that is not an ally will have no problem throwing you under a bus.
  2. Just because someone decides to side with you for the moment doesn't necessarily mean they are an ally. Bill Clinton made masterful use of his "pro-gay rights" stance -- during his campaign. Then, he signed DADT into law. Yes, he did a lot of nice things like appoint gay people to his cabinet, and I think that probably did assist the gay rights movement in the long run. But I still don't trust him as far as I can throw him.
That's all I know so far. I'm going to be thinking (and reading, and watching) this whole sticky issue of "allies" from now on. Especially when I feel that twinge.

So, I suppose the real question that I might pose to others is:

Do you want to be my ally?

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